Published by: Loveswept
Genre: Historical Romance
Order at: Amazon
Reviewed by: Erin
What to Expect: An exciting mystery, a sweet romance, and all the Victorian taxidermy you could ever ask for!
Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship. . . .
Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding . . . it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.
Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.
An Unseen Attraction is possibly Charles’ sweetest take on romance to date. Her characters tend to be challenging, (and by challenging, I mean prickly, cranky, bastards with a heart of gold somewhere in there) but the heroes of this book are good, kind, solid men trying to quietly build a life for themselves in their own little corner of London.
Clem Talleyfer is a literal bastard, not a figurative one: He’s the son of an earl and his Indian nursemaid, neuroatypical, kind, caring, and happy with the life he has, running a boarding house for skilled artisans. Rowley Green is one of those artisans. He has a shop next door and lives in Clem’s boarding house. They take tea together every night, silently pining at each other, each not quite believing they might be deserving of the other’s affections and not wanting to ruin the friendship that they have.
Of course, KJ Charles being KJ Charles, this quiet pining is interrupted by a gruesome murder, a fire, a burglary, a cover-up, more murder, and Clem’s old family secrets catching up to him.
Oh, and I should probably mention all the taxidermy. Yes, Rowley Green is a preserver, stuffing and mounting animals as either trophies or as artistic pieces on their own. There is so much description of the process. So much. I am agog at how many books Charles must have read on the subject of Victorian taxidermy. For those of you with animal harm triggers, this might be a rough read for you. This book does not shy away from any of the gory details, and I found myself reading through my fingers at a few points.
One of the interesting thing about Charles’ novels is how the character of London itself changes from book to book. In her Society of Gentlemen novels we get the halls of politics, private clubs, and polished townhouses. In Wanted, a Gentleman we get working-class folks trying to eke out a living and the day-to-day normalness of living in a big city. The London in An Unseen Attraction is thick with roiling, yellowish fog, with dead things and secret, hidden things around every corner. Talleyfer’s Lodging House is an island of refuge in the middle of the dark, dangerous streets of London, and, as a reader, you sigh a little in relief every time the characters come back there.
Another place for respite is the Jack and Knave, a molly pub where Clem spends his time. He has a good group of like-minded friends (who will all get their own books, yay) who have created their own kind of safe space in the city, as queer people have been doing for hundreds of years. Rowley has never had such a space, and the relief he gets from just being able to be himself within those walls is very affecting.
The larger mystery in the book is not entirely resolved; there is an overarching plot that will be explored through the whole series. I love that because it makes you want more, but it also make you feel a tiny bit unsatisfied at the end of the book. The romance is very much resolved, however, and you can rest assured that Clem and Rowley get their HEA, bless their hearts.
I loved this book and the rich, pulpy, Gothic world that Charles creates here. The one thing that didn’t work for me is completely individual – the descriptions of animal preservation ran right up against my own personal limits for that kind of thing. It’s not more icky/descriptive/violent than any of her other books, but something about this particular kind of ickiness was really tough for me to read. I like the book much more while rereading it, because I knew what to expect, could skim those scenes, and was able to read without flinching in anticipation.
That aside, this is an excellent entry into a new series, with a sweet romance at the core of a dark mystery. I’m excited to see where it goes, and I can’t wait to read the next book!
What you might not like: The taxidermy scenes might be tough for you if you have issues with animal harm.
What you’ll love: The sweetest, kindest hero you’ve seen in a while, a city that is swirling with secrets, and a terrific cast of new characters all make this your new book obsession for the year.
Erin is a full time contributor to Binge on Books. She is a voracious reader and reviewer who has been been reading romances since she stole them from under her neighbor’s mom’s bed while she was at work. You can read all her reviews here.
Connect with Erin on Twitter: @booksandjoe